President Donald Trump may want to partner with “Chuck and Nancy” on a solution for Dreamers, but House Republicans say forget it — at least for now.
GOP leaders are resisting Trump’s push to salvage the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative with bipartisan cooperation. Instead, at the behest of a conservative conference that loathes the Obama-era program giving work permits to young undocumented immigrants, Republicans are crafting a solution that sticks to party orthodoxy.
A GOP working group formed by House Speaker Paul Ryan held two meetings last week to discuss immigration, and sources say there was virtually no support among members for Trump’s tentative DACA deal with Democratic leaders Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi.
Multiple House GOP sources told POLITICO that Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico must be part of any discussion about DACA. That would completely contradict the accord struck by the president and Democratic leaders, in which undocumented youth would get relief in exchange for enhanced border security but not a dime in wall funding.
“The question about DACA is premature. I think it is a Democratic talking point and not what we should be talking about,” said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.). “We should be talking about what we promised … and that was: Build the wall, secure that border, internal enforcement and then eliminate the incentives people have to enter this country illegally.”
It’s not as though House Democrats are radiating the bipartisan spirit either, however.
House Minority Leader Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her team are pressuring GOP leaders to act now — well before Trump’s reprieve for the program ends in March.
Last week, Democrats sank the first vote on what’s normally a noncontroversial Federal Aviation Administration extension, partly out of protest of the inaction on DACA. Democrats are also whipping moderate Republicans in swing districts, many with large Hispanic populations, to sign a discharge petition that circumvents their own leadership and brings a bill to the floor.
At least 24 Republicans would have to add their names to force a vote on the bipartisan DREAM Act, which provides a path to citizenship for those undocumented immigrants. But while those lawmakers would typically be allies to the left on the matter, and some have even cosponsored the bill, none has signed on to the discharge petition.
Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who has his own, more conservative version of the DREAM Act, called the petition “political theater.”
“It’s an effort to politicize this issue and for people on the left side of the aisle to score points,” said Curbelo, a Cuban-American and one of the few Republicans who supports a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. “That’s not constructive right now.”
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. While DACA expires in March, many immigrants face a much sooner deadline.
Around 154,000 Dreamers — those whose permits expire in the next six months — have until Thursday to renew their applications. Democrats and even a federal judge hearing a DACA case have said the Trump administration should nix that deadline, but the Department of Homeland Security said last week it has no plans to grant an extension.
“We are ready to work with Republicans to get the bipartisan DREAM Act signed into law,” Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote in an op-ed Friday, where they reiterated their agreement with Trump not to include border wall funding as part of the deal.
But GOP leadership’s partisan approach isn’t surprising. Immigration is one of the most sensitive topics for the right. Ex-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) got burned by his conference when he even flirted with the notion of a bipartisan immigration solution a few years ago, and then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor was ousted in a primary in part because of the issue.
When Ryan became speaker, he promised his right flank that he would never make them vote on an immigration bill that doesn’t have the support of a majority of the majority. Should he put Trump’s DACA deal up for a vote, he could very well face a mutiny.
Republicans want more than just a fortified border in exchange for codifying the program. Many conservatives are still enamored with Trump’s wall. And even GOP leaders are talking about hiking the number of border enforcement officers and enacting a program requiring employers to certify the legal status of their workforce known as E-Verify.
The dramatic difference between Trump and some in the House GOP was on full display during a Capitol Hill event with conservatives last week. Members of the hard-line Freedom Caucus discussed at length demanding an end to birthright citizenship or chain migration before even considering a continuation of DACA.
“When we’re talking about DACA, it’s the cream on the cake. You got to get to the meat and potatoes first,” Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) said. “You have to talk about chain migration. You have to talk about birthright citizen for an illegal.”
“If it’s just, ‘Let’s-give-some-more-amnesty-to-illegal-aliens’ kind of legislation, then it has zero chance of getting my support,” Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said.
Comments like these are why Ryan started his working group, which is comprised of immigration hard-liners and moderates alike. Sources say they are likely to make a proposal that goes well beyond Trump’s framework and might include the physical southern structure Trump campaigned on.
For now, Democrats say they’re waiting on the White House to send over a list of legislative priorities the administration would like to see in any final deal. Several Democrats said they were rattled by the leak of a White House document last week that included many hard-line immigration ideas Democrats would never support.
But a Democratic aide later said the plan, written by White House adviser Stephen Miller, an immigration hard-liner, is believed to have been drafted before Trump had dinner with Schumer and Pelosi on Sept. 13.
Pelosi reached out to White House chief of staff John Kelly after the document surfaced. The White House is expected to send out its list of priorities sometime this week.
In the Senate, a conservative version of the DREAM Act crafted by GOP senators has already run into resistance from some key immigration advocacy groups and Democratic lawmakers, whose support is necessary to advance bills through that chamber.
The legislation’s chief authors, GOP Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and James Lankford of Oklahoma, have been speaking quietly to GOP leadership and plan to meet with Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois — an influential Democrat on immigration policy — to discuss the issue. The Senate Judiciary Committee will also hold a hearing Tuesday on DACA with several administration officials on immigration policy and enforcement.
Bipartisanship on the issue isn’t nonexistent in the House. The Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of several dozen centrist Republicans and Democrats, is working on legislation codifying Trump’s framework with Democratic leaders.
Rep. Martha McSally, an Arizona Republican whose district is near the border, is taking the lead crafting the Problem Solvers’ border-security piece of the equation. Their bill, said caucus member Curbelo, will likely include a pathway to citizenship and not conservative demands for E-Verify or an enforcement crackdown.
Asked whether he really thought House Republicans could back a bipartisan solution, Curbelo said yes.
But perhaps not without some posturing first. “I think people on both sides are going to try to get as much as they can,” Curbelo said.
“If [Illinois Democrat] Mr. Luis Gutiérrez, my friend I’ve been coordinating with, had his way, he’d have the Hope Act and have millions of people legalized tomorrow,” he said. “I told him I’m for that, too, but that’s probably not realistic — just like Republicans who want to fund the entire wall project or demand aggressive interior enforcement.”
Those demands, Curbelo continued, could tank the entire thing: “That’s why I tell people: ‘Let’s not get too ambitious. Let’s take care of these young people who are at risk now.’”
Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.
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